Cannabis landraces. The essential characteristic of landrace strains of Cannabis is that they’re domesticates. As Dr. Ernest Small writes in Cannabis: A Complete Guide, “The term landrace (land race) refers to populations of domesticated plants that were selected over many generations by farmers in a region.” A literal modern translation of the German word ‘Landrasse’ is not ‘landrace’ but ‘country-breed’.

Fibre, food, and drugs – whether medicinal or ‘intoxicating’ – are the three main uses for which Cannabis is traditionally cultivated. In Cannabis landraces, traits selected for by generations of farmers can include one or more of the following: high-quality bast fibre, large nutritious seeds, or resinous and aromatic inflorescences that are rich in THC.

The belief that Cannabis landraces are ‘natural’ or ‘wild’ plants – i.e., strains created by nature alone – is mistaken. Misinformation about landraces remains widespread among aficionados. No doubt landraces are typically region-specific and adapted to their local environment through natural selection. In that sense, landraces are ‘naturalized’. But the defining characteristics particular to the various types of Cannabis landrace result from farmers consciously and unconsciously selecting for desired products, a process of human-driven creation that in regions such as Central Asia has taken place over many millennia.

Drug-type Cannabis landraces can be grouped into two main types – i.e., northern or southern. Northern landraces were domesticated principally for production of cannabis resin (charas) by a process of bulk selection and are found from eastern Central Asia through the Hindu Kush and Near East as far west as Morocco. Southern landraces were domesticated principally for production of sinsemilla (ganja) through individual plant selection and originate in tropical to subtropical India and Southeast Asia. Respectively, the geographic centres in which these two main groups of Cannabis landraces are autochthonous are probably eastern Central Asia (‘Indicas’) and the peripheries of the Bay of Bengal (‘Sativas’). They correspond to the two high-end traditional cannabis drug products, charas and ganja. Because of their history of individual selection, landrace Sativas are significantly more potent than true landrace Indicas.

A third type of Cannabis landrace is comprised by the multipurpose landraces of the Himalaya, which may be representative of the most ancient form of Cannabis domesticate. These strains are cultivated for three products: fibre, food, and drugs.

By contrast to the above three groups, actual wild-type forms of Cannabis can be classified as distinct formal varieties from landraces using a classical taxonomic key.

In addition to the two high-end traditional products ganja and charas there is the most basic form of traditional Cannabis drug product, bhang, which can be prepared from any plant from these landrace or wild-type populations. Landraces that are specific to bhang production can be found in the Punjab and southern Pakistan.

Crucially, Cannabis landraces and their wild-type relatives are an invaluable reservoir of biodiversity and are critically endangered.

For authoritative information, see the essential 2020 study from McPartland & Small, ‘A classification of endangered high-THC cannabis (Cannabis sativa subsp. indica) domesticates and their wild relatives’. There’s a response from Angus of The Real Seed Company here: ‘Endangered Varieties of subsp. indica.

For more about the term ‘landrace’ – misleading as it is – see What’s the Real Meaning of ‘Landrace’?

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